I am an excellent painter. In fact, I’m such an excellent painter, that often I not only paint the walls, but in the process I also paint my clothes and shoes, the floors, the ladders, and the furniture. And my hair. A few years ago, I was painting one of the bedrooms, and sure enough, I dropped a big ol’ glob of paint on the carpet. I acted quickly enough that I got most of it up. Most of it. There’s still a little bit but you wouldn’t notice it. Just don’t look over there by the window. I’d never admit to my mom that I made such a mess because these things are best left quietly covered up, never to be admitted. But the evidence of my mistake glares at me every time I go in that room, and I just know that one day, my sin will find me out!

I have often said that the three most freeing words in the English language are, “I messed up.” I have found that the longer and more tenaciously I try to hold onto my right to be right, the longer I try to justify words I shouldn’t have said or cover up things I shouldn’t have done, the more miserable I am. When I’m miserable, so are the people around me!

Taking responsibility for wrong words and actions is hard to do, because it is our nature to defend our good name and good reputation. We don’t want others to have a poor opinion of us, and we don’t want to have a poor opinion of ourselves either.

But we do mess up, don’t we? Even though sometimes, in the moment, it seems like we have good reason to make the poor choices we sometimes make. I believe that it is a mark of great maturity to be able to not only agree that we did something that we shouldn’t have done, but to agree with the wrongness of our poor words and actions.

I was reminded of all this when reading the past few days in the book of Exodus. In Exodus 24, the Lord invites Moses to bring Aaron and two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu up on the mountain with him (along with 70 elders). In Exodus 24:9-11, twice we read, “and they saw God.” How incredible it must have been to be singled out to experience the actual presence of God! How life changing this must have been…

At least for the next 40 days or so. Because it was about that time that the people of Israel started getting antsy that Moses hadn’t come down from the mountain yet, so Aaron decided to put together an idol for them. And then throw a feast to the Lord to celebrate the idol. Aaron messed up. Then, just like most of us, when he was ultimately confronted about it, he pointed the finger at the people of Israel, and tried to convince Moses that the golden calf just appeared when the people threw their jewelry into the fire!

You know what’s amazing to me? While Aaron was participating in idolatry, God was instructing Moses on how Aaron, as priest, should be honored- how the priests should be clothed, consecrated, and respected. He instructed Moses on the integral part that the priests (Aaron and his sons, namely) would play in the redemptive work of God’s people through the offering of sacrifices. Didn’t God know what was going on at the foot of the mountain? Didn’t He know what treasonous thing Aaron was doing? Didn’t He know that the Aaron was leading astray the very people that he would be required to offer atoning sacrifices for? Well, of course He did- He’s God! But the nature of the sacrifices and consecrating rituals that Aaron would perform would cleanse Aaron, and the people who repented, of this sin. It is clear that, for His own reasons, God did not intend to strip Aaron of his position as priest just because of this incident of sin and transgression.

Aaron was allowed to mess up and still keep his position as priest. God knew that Aaron wouldn’t continue in the same pattern of disobedience and idolatry. Also, it must be pointed out that Aaron had to live with the consequences of his sin. Exodus 32:35 reads that “The Lord smote the people (who continued in idolatry) because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.” Later, Aaron’s own sons, the very ones who had seen God on the mountain, were killed for carrying out their priestly duties in a careless and irresponsible manner (Lev. 10:1-2). Aaron’s sin left the blood of many men, including his own sons, on his hands- he had to live out the remainder of his days with the enormity of that knowledge.

However, though Aaron had to present daily atoning sacrifices for his sins, that was taken care of once and for all for me through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He takes that eternal sin guilt away, though, yes, I will still have to live with certain consequences. And what are the consequences of my mistakes, my sins? Knowing I’ve caused someone pain, broken relationships, financial failure, poor health, etc.

When I meditate on this passage, I can’t help but be reminded of Romans 5:8, which reads that “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” As mankind was living in utter opposition to God, as I was living as His enemy, He was planning my redemption. He was making a way for me to share in the holy priesthood- me, with all my guilt and sin, found worthy because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

You know, it seems to me the more I spend time in the presence of God, the more able I am to confess when I mess up. Spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer makes me want to get things right; it makes me want to get me right. Getting right must begin with the willingness to speak those three words. To say to the Lord in a spirit of contrite humility that I messed up, I sinned, I dishonored Him. Yes, it can be a difficult thing to do, but confessing my sin to Him puts me in a position to accept His forgiveness, to allow Him to cleanse me, and to free me to have an unobstructed relationship with Him.